Li Xiaotong, a sophomore at Central China University, and her classmates set up a dormitory library to promote the habit of reading among their peers. She borrows books recommended online from the school library to share with neighbors. Her mini library has proved to be a hit in the dorm.
“Students don’t read much now apart from textbooks,” said Li. “Dipping into the Internet to read stuff is not enough to cultivate independent thinking.”
A recent survey conducted by Xiamen Evening News among college students echoes Li’s comments. The findings indicated that 43 percent of respondents read for less than one hour each day and 11 percent of students didn’t read at all on campus.
In contrast, their contemporaries in the West receive reading lists as a major part of their college education.
Samantha Lin is a graduate of US-based Northwestern University. She said the reading list she got from the university spans topics from history and sociology to post modern novels and literature classics.
“Some of the books seem a bit far away from daily courses,” said Lin. “But at the end of the day, it is those books on the reading lists which give me inspiration and form my world view.”
The University of Sydney also launched a first-year book club to encourage all freshmen to read beyond their course readers. All newly-enrolled students are given a book to read. In 2011, it was a novel about the first settlers in Australia.
“The information for you to do well in your future career never just comes from a course reader, it comes from the connections you make from all the material outside the classroom,” said Jordi Austin, director of student support service of the Australian university.
Apart from its function to expand students’ horizons, the reading list has become a culture among many Western readers.
Andy O’Brien, a tour guide in the UK, followed Harvard’s admission reading list for years. He says the books picked by the top university faculty both address some of the must-know contemporary social and political issues and rediscover the significance of classics.
“It is like a free tutor who guides your choice of books,” said O’Brien.
As for Chinese universities, some of them are catching on. Fudan University and Zhejiang University released their freshmen reading list last year covering a range of topics.
However, many students complain that it is impossible to finish the list.
Kate Grenville, a renowned novelist in Australia, says it is not a necessity to finish a book. The important thing is to sit down and think profoundly about what you are reading.
“Now it’s almost a lost skill to concentrate your thoughts on books,” said Grenville.